This post is inspired by a recent blog post by my good friend and fellow travel photographer/writer Ewen Bell. You can read the post on The Red Rambutan. With the fantastic title of Hypocritical Bollocks how could you not want to read it?
Anyway what inspired the post is, in a nutshell, the increasing lack of respect for professional quality travel photography. In an age where there seem to be a million people just happy to give their pictures away just for the thrill of being published what incentive is there for multi-million dollar publishing houses to pay for content when they can get it for free and increase the profits for themselves.
But the argument that many newbie photographers make is that they don't feel they can charge for their photography when they first start out. In fact Ewen's post was inspired by a discussion group which was talking about a survey of freelance writers here in Australia which found that some people had been writing for major publications for months but were too afraid to ask for money. Major publications that are part of some of the world's largest publishing groups. Like they can't afford to spare some loose change for content.
Here's the thing. Your photography is not you. Whether somebody likes your pictures or not says nothing about what they think about you. So once you can separate yourself from your art then you can put the objective thinking cap on. If you have a picture (or a piece of writing for that matter) and a publication tells you that they want to put it in their magazine (newspaper, website etc) they are telling you that that picture is good enough to print. It has value.
More to the point it has value to them. That picture is going to help elevate the status of their publication or product. That picture will help them to make money. Let me repeat that - your picture(s) will help them to make money.
They're not putting it in there because they like you, they're putting it in there because they know that doing so will help sell something. By publishing good photography they will encourage people to look at their publication. Whether it is a paid for publication or not is irrelevant. By attracting viewers they are hoping to turn those viewers into profit. Whether it is by encouraging them to buy the publication, or if it's free by hoping that the reader will be encouraged to buy something from one of the advertisers, which in turn brings more advertising dollars. Great content equals bigger profits.
So when they tell you that your picture is good enough to publish your objective mind should be answering 'great, then it's good enough to pay for.' If you're thinking about offering your work for free in the hope that somebody will publish it, well you're behind the eight ball from the word go. They've already offered to publish it. No need to give the carrot to the donkey that's already walking!
The trouble is that a lot of the money making decisions are taken out of the hands of the editors that we work with. When they tell you they don't have a budget for pictures they're most likely telling you the truth. But it is at this point that you can make a big difference to the way the world works. If you give your pictures away because you like your editor and want to help them, well you're just going to keep the status quo going and actually make it harder for the editor to get a budget for photography.
But if enough of us reply as nicely as possible (after all our editors aren't the enemy) that we just can't give our work away for free, then just maybe those editors will have enough ammunition to go to the bean counters with a list of all the people who are refusing to give their work away and just maybe things will begin to change.
Mind you I'm not holding my breath. But I have taken a stand and refuse to work with any profit-making publication that refuses to pay for pictures - especially those that will pay for words but somehow deem that photography is not as worthy as writing. It's not my job to support profit-making ventures that don't budget enough to pay their contributors. I'll make up the lost income in other ways that don't require me to sell my soul thank you very much.
Travel writing and photography has always been a low paying business. The age old laws of supply and demand ensure that the publications can pretty much dictate what they will pay you - and you won't be retiring early let me tell you. But we all have to look at our own costs of living and decide what kind of money we need to live and make our working decisions based on that. But I guarantee you that no matter how frugally you live you're not going to get far on absolutely nothing. Zip, zilch, nada. Even baked beans on toast cost more than that.
So just remember - if your pictures are good enough to publish, they're good enough to pay for.